In this case of incipient leftism, Williamson goes full Ron Paul on the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
National Review June 2, 2015, by Kevin Williamson
Sign You’re Doing Something Wrong: Front Companies
This doesn’t look shady at all.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is operating a small air force with scores of low-flying planes across the country carrying video and, at times, cellphone surveillance technology – all hidden behind fictitious companies that are fronts for the government, The Associated Press has learned. The planes’ surveillance equipment is generally used without a judge’s approval, and the FBI said the flights are used for specific, ongoing investigations. The FBI said it uses front companies to protect the safety of the pilots and aircraft. It also shields the identity of the aircraft so that suspects on the ground don’t know they’re being watched by the FBI.
And it’s not just cameras.
Evolving technology can record higher-quality video from long distances, even at night, and can capture certain identifying information from cellphones using a device known as a “cell-site simulator” – or Stingray, to use one of the product’s brand names. These can trick pinpointed cellphones into revealing identification numbers of subscribers, including those not suspected of a crime.
So . . . warrantless, invasive surveillance (“The FBI does not generally obtain warrants to record video from its planes”) over American cities, generally with no judicial oversight, conducted through phony front companies set up specifically for the purpose of camouflaging FBI activities.
How is that legal? How is it permissible?
CIA setting up front companies to hide covert operations abroad? Business as usual, no objections, that’s what spooks do, and one hopes (alas . . .) that, given the splendid budgets and resources with which we provide them, they’d do it well enough to avoid detection by a couple of AP reporters. (Seriously: Nice work, AP!) That’s fine for spies. Domestic law enforcement doing the same thing at home? That is deeply worrisome. Any time a law-enforcement agency engages in a campaign of mass public deception, it’s almost certainly doing something wrong. Any time the cops feel the need to set up a phony front company, they should stop and take a deep breath, and maybe ask somebody: “What the hell are we up to, here, exactly?”
So, let's just go through this stupidity point-by-point:
First, warrantless surveillance. News flash Williamson, no law enforcement agency has ever needed a warrant to conduct surveillance of people. Every day, law enforcement agencies big and small conduct surveillance of suspects without a warrant, because no warrant to follow or photograph a person in public is needed. The police, the FBI, or the sheriff deputies can follow you all day long and not need a warrant. They can even take photographs of you all day long as well. The principle in Constitutional law is "right to be, right to see."
Besides aircraft, law enforcement agencies use boats, cars, and trucks to conduct their surveillance. Some of those vehicles are unmarked and do not have government license plates. Secret surveillance of criminal suspects by government agents is an important tool in law enforcement. Doing such surveillance from cars marked FBI or with government license plates would be foolish, warning the suspect of the surveillance. For that reason the FBI, other Federal law enforcement agencies, as well as State and local agencies conduct that surveillance from unmarked cars with regular license plates.
Perhaps Williamson wants the FBI surveillance teams assigned to follow terrorists or drug dealers in cars with G-ride with these plates? God only knows why. You're either for or against criminals.
Nor is there a Constitutional right to know you are a suspect in an investigation. In most cases, that would be the end of the investigation, as the suspects would go underground, flee the country, or destroy evidence of their crime. Besides deterring crime in general, we want our law enforcement agencies to solve crimes that have been committed. As part of that process agencies don't notify suspects, and surveillance, even from the air, is an invaluable tool.
And to add to Williamson's fears, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) also maintains a secret air force of surveillance planes that aren't readily identifiable as DEA planes. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Air and Marine, also maintains a large air fleet for surveillance, both domestic and international, as does the U.S. Coast Guard. While generally marked as government airplanes, both use cameras to spy on Americans, and aliens, usually those actively involved in a crime in progress, like crossing the border with bundles of drugs, but often also used for other investigative surveillance of American and foreign criminals in America. Just as the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, ICE SVU, and U.S. Marshals use cars and foot to surveil suspects, and take photographs from cars.
And it's legal! See Florida v. Riley Comrade Williamson!
As most people know, all planes in the United States have an identifying number painted in large letters and numbers on the side and sometimes the wings as well, commonly called the N-number, required by the Federal Aviation Administration. These numbers are a matter of easily available public record, unlike vehicle license plates, which most States will not release upon inquiry except for a legal reason. By using the N-number, drug cartels, Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, or any other criminal organization could track planes registered to the FBI or DEA, so both use front companies to hide their air fleet, both of which use still cameras and live video as part of their surveillance work. That is why the FBI and DEA lease their planes through front companies, not only to save on maintenance costs, but to hide their identity from counter-surveillance by cartels, criminals, and terrorists.
So, in answer to Williamson's burning question, “What the hell are we up to, here, exactly?” The surveillance of suspects in criminal, counter-terrorism, and intelligence investigations. Pretty simple answer, but not for the paranoid libertarian who ridicules border fences.
As an aside, a Stingray device can be used on planes, vehicles, or on foot. In its general use, the Stingray device is used merely to find the location of a cell phone. While it can be used to obtain metadata, it is not used to obtain privacy protected data, such as internet use, texts, and voice communications, unless so enabled and used in compliance with Title III intercepts, which the FBI already uses extensively, with appropriate warrants.
So, Williamson, no one from the Bureau is listening in on you or anyone else unless they have a warrant or a legal excpetion to the warrant requirement, but they won't be using planes or Stingrays, but other technology. So, let's not get stuck on stupid.